This week, the University of Michigan opened a 32-acre miniature city with intersections, streetlights and construction zones to offer a real world environment for testing autonomous technology.
University officials said Mcity, the name of the test course, is “the world’s first controlled environment specifically designed to test the potential of connected and automated vehicle technologies that will lead the way to mass-market driverless cars.”
As more automakers work on different levels of autonomous technology, many questions have arisen with how these will mix with conventional vehicles. In addition to navigating surrounding traffic, unexpected obstacles like pedestrians and trashcans need to be safely handled.
Mcity creates a safe setting where developers can test technology before it moves to public roads. To build the $10 million environment, the university incorporated street signs, traffic signals, sidewalks and construction zones. Graffiti-covered signs and faded street markings have even been added to emulate real-world issues the vehicles must decode.
“There are many challenges ahead as automated vehicles are increasingly deployed on real roadways,” said Peter Sweatman, director of MTC. “Mcity is a safe, controlled, and realistic environment where we are going to figure out how the incredible potential of connected and automated vehicles can be realized quickly, efficiently and safely.”
The course was designed and built by the University of Michigan’s Mobility Transformation Center (MTC) with support from the Michigan Department of Transportation. Ford, General Motors, Honda, Nissan and Toyota make up a portion of MTC’s 15 major partners, along with insurance, communication and technology companies.
Mcity will become the proving ground for more than just self-driving vehicles, said MTC. Connected vehicles, which links vehicles to other vehicles or the surrounding infrastructure, and all levels of automation can be tested here.
The course will also play a major role in implementing MTC’s goal to “put a shared network of connected, automated (including driverless) vehicles on the road in Ann Arbor by 2021.”
“With the help of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, MTC is building on a nearly 3,000-vehicle connected technology project launched three years ago by the U-M Transportation Research Institute to create a major deployment of 9,000 connected vehicles operating across the greater Ann Arbor area,” MTC said.
Phase Two expands this initiative to place 20,000 connected vehicles on roads throughout Southeast Michigan, and the third phase puts 2,000 automated taxis in Ann Arbor.
“We believe that this transformation to connected and automated mobility will be a game changer for safety, for efficiency, for energy, and for accessibility,” said Sweatman. “Our cities will be much better to live in, our suburbs will be much better to live in. These technologies truly open the door to 21st century mobility.”